Our young who died defending us are revered and remembered as heroes, and in turn they have inspired our poets and composers. 

On November 11 Richard Pearce and the Romsey Choral Society performed a moving concert of twentieth century pieces in that rich vein. 

Laurence Binyon’s iconic and concentrated ‘They Shall Grow Not Old’ set the tone, articulated by all the voices with wonderful clarity in Douglas Guest’s unaccompanied setting. 

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the young George Butterworth’s 1911 settings of A E Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’, written with unbelievable clairvoyance about ‘the lads that will never return’. 

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Butterworth himself was to die on the Somme, and baritone Twm Tegid Brunton wrung our hearts with a poignant ‘pin-drop’ performance, beautifully accompanied on the piano by Richard Pearce. 

Next in this fascinating programme came William Henry Harris’s ‘Faire is the Heaven’, setting Edmund Spenser’s 16th century poem about the inexpressible joys of the afterlife. To highlight the emotional impact of the words the experienced Harris seems to have used them as a test-piece to bring out the varied possibilities of unaccompanied choral singing, and we got the full range of dynamics, tone, harmonic variety, balance and expression. I have seldom heard such a demonstration of a choir as the conductor’s personal instrument. 

More foresight followed. It is hard to imagine that John Ireland wrote ‘Greater Love Hath No Man’ in 1912, so much did it tragically resonate later. In this classic of the English choral repertoire the sopranos in particular took their chance to soar and shine.

The second half brought a rarity: Vierne’s short Messe Solennelle, with a gentle lullaby for organ as a welcome insertion half-way through. Unlike most concert-hall Masses with choir and orchestra this is for choir and double organ, and I for one relished the greater authenticity and sense of reverence that brought. It wasn’t small or underplayed though, and (as throughout the evening) the choir produced some beautiful and powerful sounds, not afraid to end with another poignant act of remembrance by repeating ‘They Shall Grow Not Old’. 

Review by Chris Amery